By: Dr. Eddie Estep
You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy,
and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. Leviticus 20:26
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,
he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy,
useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21
Early in the Old Testament, a predominant understanding of holiness is one of separation—something has been “set apart” for special use—specifically, for God’s use. Objects such as bowls, lamps, and candle trimmers are spoken of as being “holy” because they have been dedicated—set apart—for use in service to God. Their use is strictly limited to the Temple. To employ these tools and instruments in other ways would be to profane them.
It is important to note that this separation is not for isolation, but for employment. It’s one thing to be set apart like Diane’s special Christmas tableware—used for a specific purpose but used infrequently. It’s another thing to be set apart like my toothbrush—used for a specific purpose, and (hopefully) used frequently. Set apart—in regard to holiness—does not mean that we have some exalted status or limited use. Rather, set apart indicates we have been given a special mission—to be used daily for God’s unique purposes.
It is not just objects that are set apart in the Bible. People groups, as well as individuals, are set apart. Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9 both refer to Israel as “a holy nation”—not in the sense that Israel is perfect or sinless, but in the sense that Israel’s calling is for a specific purpose on the earth. God distinguishes and sets apart Israel from among all the other nations of the earth to be his special possession. They are set apart—made holy—to be a light to the Gentiles.
God’s people are set apart—not so much for special status as for special use.
The New Testament understanding of being set apart continues this basic understanding, but also emphasizes a moral component of cleansing or purity.
For folks like you and me, who can’t spend our lives sequestered in the sanctuary, being “holy” means something broader than just set apart. It means that God’s grace has transformed our hearts so that we reflect the heart of Christ. Only then can we truly proclaim the Gospel of Christ. We become envoys of the King—reflecting his heart as we proclaim the message of the One whom we represent.
God has a mission for his holy people. He is attempting to reconcile the world to himself, and his holy people are his ambassadors of love and grace to a broken world. As agents of reconciliation, we are set apart to tell a world that has lost its way that Jesus has come, and that he brings Light, Hope, and Peace.
It is for this purpose that has God set us apart.
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
Lyrics of “Purify My Heart,” by Brian Robert Doerksen